Monday, April 8, 2013

on line education

At the airport waiting for my flight to a conference that will describe new technologies in on line education.  This is a big ingredient in contemporary university success.  A while back I was involved in creating an on line version of an on ground program.  I understand that the on line version is more than twice as popular as the on ground version.  Universities across the country are exploring how to deliver courses meaningfully using this format.  This is why I sit in the airport.

What has been particularly educational thus far is the horrific traffic jam I endured on the way to the airport having selected a departure time from work which coincided with the end of a Red Sox 3-1 victory at Fenway Park, a neighbor of my university.  The traffic was the bad news.  The good news is that the Logan airport folks had plenty of attendants at the bag check in as well as the security lines so despite the crawling traffic I am comfortably by the gate.

There is some interesting entertainment nearby.  A family of what I take to be triplets sit to my left. The kids look to be about four, two girls and a boy.  The mother, moments ago, came by with huge hamburgers for the clan to consume.  Watching these kids wrestle with the hamburgers might prove to be more entertaining than the finals of the NCAA tournament tonight.  Las Vegas would not have laid odds that these kids could finish the burgers without a mess, but they appeared to do so.  Very happy looking quintet my neighbors.  Also a literary bunch. Two of the three kids are reading Harry Potter novels which makes me wonder about their age, though they truly are pipsqueaks.  The third is nibbling on his last french fry and at the clip of his nibbling, it ought to last the transcontinental flight.

I want to be dispassionate about on line education possibilities. My gut reaction is that for serious students it can be great for a number of reasons.  You can work at your own pace; you do not have to live near the university where the course is being offered; you can engage in a way you might be reluctant to if you were in person and on-ground.  Instructors who are shy or poor speakers in a classroom setting, can plan intelligently and avoid problems that oral communication apprehension might create.

I remember, however, reading an article several years ago about the benefits of high touch vs high tech. For good on-ground teachers, on-line would eliminate their skill of generating discussion based on nonverbal perceptions and familiarity with students that you can gain only by regular contact.  And how do you deal, as an instructor, with testing and corner cutting wise guys.  Looking forward to seeing how that might be addressed by the presenters at this conference.

The couple who has parented these three kids who manhandled their burgers moments ago, I wonder how they met.  In a class maybe.  They didn't produce these kids on line.   If they are showing some technology for that at this conference I imagine it will be tough to get a seat at the workshops.

Had an acquaintance from the health club.  Guy was a nice fellow but spent a lot of time moaning about how he had not met anyone  (Interestingly, a lot of the women at the health club would complain similarly making me wonder at times if one group could hear how it was implicitly insulting the other).  Point is, one day about ten years ago he was bouncing around the locker room like a guy who had caught the love bug.  Because he had. He met someone on line, and the two discovered they were meant to be. Never saw her before the electronic connection.  Anyway he started talking to anyone within twenty lockers about how great things were. He told all that he planned to drive down to North Carolina I think it was, pick her up, and then get married a week after they arrived in Boston.

I did not know the guy that well, but I suggested a more conservative course. He waved me away as if I was a fly landing on his nose.  Why wait he said without any sense of anything that I could identify as logical.   Haven't seen the guy in years, so I don't know how it all came out.

Can you learn meaningfully on line? Fall in love?  The former will be explained in the next two days.  Don't think the couple to my left with the three extraordinarily well behaved kids would answer affirmatively to the latter.

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